The Ascent of the Private Debt Market
Christopher may get most of the glory. But it was Vasco who survived the most brutal journey and delivered the greatest riches in their shared era. On May 20, 1498, five and a half years after Columbus made landfall in the Americas, Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut, India, Columbus’ original intended destination when he set out to find a new route to an old world. As for distance, da Gamma’s voyage stretched on for more than two years, covering 24,000 miles of ocean, four times the distance straight across the Atlantic to the New World. Columbus’ men went 33 days without sight of land; da Gama’s crew braved 90 with scurvy setting in.
Success might have been scuttled were it not for destiny placing an Arab pilot familiar with crossing the Indian Ocean in da Gama’s pathway at the port of Malindi, in present-day Kenya. All of 25 days later, through sheets of monsoon rains, the expedition reached the Spice Coast. Ever prudent, da Gama dispatched the journey’s degredado, an anonymous criminal considered expendable in the event of a hostile reception. This exotic, fair-skinned foreigner, who was neither Chinese or Malay and understood no Arabic, drew a crowd. A pair of Tunisian merchants who spoke basic Genoese and Castilian bridged the communication gap. As legend has it, they queried, “What the devil brought you here?” to which the degredado replied, “We came in search of Christians and spices.”
No surprise, the “Christian” part was empty talk. Accessing the riches of the Malabar Coast, which remains to this day a dominant center of global spice production and distribution, was the true objective. No longer would spices be the sole preserve of the Arab brokers who’d dominated the westward trade routes from ancient times through the Middle Ages. Jack Turner, the Australian author and expert historian, summed up the historical import: “Whereas Columbus was an entire hemisphere off track, the Portuguese had hit the mother lode.” Cardamom, cinnamon, pepper and turmeric would no longer be as difficult to access. But more than anything, peppercorns, which in the early Middle Ages were served alone as a currency. Wealthy brides received pepper as a dowry.
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Danielle DiMartino Booth is CEO and Director of Intelligence at Quill Intelligence
For a full archive of my writing, please visit my website — www.DiMartinoBooth.com
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